Friday, May 21, 2010

Artie's Game

My Sepia Saturday offering this week is a photograph of our very first local hockey team in 1913. Outside my department in the hospital is a wall featuring several old black and white pictures of regional interest, including this one. The handsome gentleman sitting on the ice on the right was the uncle of one of my patients, a remarkable ninety-two year old man who still brews his own beer. His name was Arthur Morgan and he was a keen athlete and apparently quite a colourful character. Having returned home from the Great War safely, Artie, as he was known to family and friends, died in 1919 during the Spanish influenza outbreak which swept the world with such devastating consequences.

His nephew, Bob, who was the son of Artie’s sister and born a few years after his death, remembers being told tales about Uncle Artie throughout his childhood. One afternoon recently, Bob, frail and stooped, clutching his walker, stood beside me and pointed out Artie’s picture. His clouded eyes were filled with the glow of memory as he began to speak.

Artie apparently loved wild blueberries and spent hours picking them. He had a great sense of humour. He loved to fish and skate, but ice-hockey was his passion, 'his game'. His grandmother could rarely speak of her only son without tears in her eyes. She had lost another son as an infant years earlier. Apparently Uncle Artie, a school boy at the time, had charged local kids a penny each to come and see the wee babe lying in his coffin on the kitchen table! "I can still see my grandmother giving a little laugh when she’d tell of this and then wiping her eyes on her apron", Bob said.

At the time of his death, Artie had started a small lumber mill and was still playing ice-hockey on a local team. In those days they played exclusively outdoors on the uneven surface of frozen lakes. You may be interested to learn that despite ice-hockey being Canada’s national religion and we like to believe we invented the game, it has British beginnings.

In the 1860’s British soldiers stationed in Kingston, Ontario began playing ice-hockey on the small frozen lakes in the area. Within a few years, students from McGill University had heard about the game and were playing it themselves. By the 1870’s the students had written up a basic set of rules and had also exchanged the ball used by the soldiers for a wooden puck.

Ice-hockey is the growing rite of passage for many Canadian boys, and my eldest grandson D, who will be seven in September, has been playing Mite hockey for almost two years. I once found him sleeping with his hockey stick, and another time his hockey jersey had somehow replaced his pyjamas as sleepwear.

Gem and I have accompanied our son Joshua (D’s Daddy and a superb hockey player in his own right) many times to watch his games. There is something especially enjoyable about watching little NHL dreamers tumble and slip and play their five and six year old hearts out on the ice. Each one wants only one thing ... to score a goal. Positions are anathema to them. They all want the puck and to get it into that net. At that age, assisting your team mate is also a foreign concept, despite the coach calling out numerous times, “Assist, Jackson ... Assist!  Pass! Pass! Pass! Assisting is very important, guys!”

During the last ten minutes of each practice, a dozen pucks are thrown onto the ice and the kids are allowed “free” play. Within seconds every single boy is engrossed in a frenzy of shooting from near and far. Each little player scans the sea of parents and grandparents in the stands. Shouts of "I got a goal!! Did you see?" fill the arena. The happiness D emanates, is to me, the heart of the game.

There is something very poignant about seeing the picture of the young, vital Artie Morgan in his ‘jailbird’ hockey uniform. I can imagine him as a boy, blueberry stains on his chin. I can see him blowing on his hands to keep them warm as he skates with his friends. A century later, his legacy lives on in the hundreds of local boys, cradled by wonder, still playing ‘Artie’s game’.

(D, age six, Mite Hockey, 2010).


  1. It's true, hockey is our national religion, isn't it?
    How sad that Artie survived the Great War, only to be taken by the Spanish Flu.
    You told their story with great sensitivity.


  2. Yes, this is wonderfully well told in the little details of blueberries, and the spectacle of the baby in the coffin...

    My husband played ice hockey through high school and college. Very romantic!

  3. What a wonderful story about Uncle Artie, he was very handsome, as most of them were. We come and gone through this life and not everyone is remembered like this. Darien looks like he enjoys the sport also. What a lovely looking little boy also.
    And as you wrote, it sure has come a long way from skating on uneven lakes.

  4. A wonderful post -- especially the story of charging to see the baby!

  5. What a privilege to hear about Bob's connection to his uncle Artie and the memories he shared with you.

    I remember how fanatical I was about scoring goals for our school soccer team, when I was a wee boy. As you say, no concept of teamwork at that age.

    By-the-way, Darian really looks the business in his ice hockey kit.

  6. Wonderful post. I will send the picture to my son who - somewhat strangely for people in this country - is a passionate ice hokey player and secretary of the University ice hockey club. I have occasionally discovered him still wearing his ice hokey clothes in bed : but in his case that is because he has come home from an over-enthusiastic team celebration a little worse for wear. Good luck with the move.

  7. Takes me back to my own hockey days as a young boy in East Toronto. I think I slept in my hockey jersey more than once.

  8. BEautifully told--I grew up playing hockey in rural Vermont, & we learned to skate on ponds. When I played in high school, our school was one of the last to have an outdoor rink. It is a great sport--so glad your grandson gets to enjoy it.

  9. He must have been an imp and a natural salesman to have capitalized off the wee babe's death so unselfconsciously. I'm sure he got an earful when his caper was discovered (or maybe more than an earful). Isn't it wonderful that he's still alive in stories?

  10. A really fascinating story..well told. I guess I'm a little morbid because I liked the part about the baby in the coffin, too.